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1 Say Cheese: New Molds for “Old” Cooperative Forms? The Case of Wisconsin Specialty Cheesemaking D. Gordon Smith Brayden G. King †† Marc Schneiberg ††† February 2009 Are cooperatives in American agriculture artifacts of commodity production, the “old economy” or specific economic conditions associated with a by-gone era? Or is there a positive role for cooperative organization in specialty markets, custom-quality production and other “new economy” sectors characterized by fragmented or rapidly changing markets? In this paper we look at a particular kind of new economy industry in the agricultural sector – Wisconsin specialty cheese producers. Like many new economy industries, specialty cheese producers market niche products, rely on select suppliers and distributors, and operate small-scale businesses. Moreover, on first pass, the prospects for cooperatives in specialty cheese production seem quite dim, given the notable absence of conditions typically associated with cooperative enterprise in artisanal agricultural production and local foods subsectors like this one. Cooperatives traditionally thrived under specific conditions in the U.S. Historically, producers and consumers formed cooperatives to manage hold-ups and other transactions costs they faced with “trusts,” “combines” and investor-owned corporations in key infrastructure sectors. Cooperatives were typically organized by homogenous Glen L. Farr Professor of Law, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University †† Assistant Professor of Management & Organizations, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. ††† John C. Pock Professor of Sociology, Reed College.
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cheese and coops v51
Say Cheese: New Molds for “Old” Cooperative Forms? The Case of Wisconsin Specialty Cheesemaking
D. Gordon Smith† Brayden G. King†† Marc Schneiberg†††
February 2009
Are cooperatives in American agriculture artifacts of commodity production, the
“old economy” or specific economic conditions associated with a by-gone era? Or is
there a positive role for cooperative organization in specialty markets, custom-quality
production and other “new economy” sectors characterized by fragmented or rapidly
changing markets? In this paper we look at a particular kind of new economy industry in
the agricultural sector – Wisconsin specialty cheese producers. Like many new economy
industries, specialty cheese producers market niche products, rely on select suppliers and
distributors, and operate small-scale businesses. Moreover, on first pass, the prospects
for cooperatives in specialty cheese production seem quite dim, given the notable absence
of conditions typically associated with cooperative enterprise in artisanal agricultural
production and local foods subsectors like this one.
Cooperatives traditionally thrived under specific conditions in the U.S.
Historically, producers and consumers formed cooperatives to manage hold-ups and other
transactions costs they faced with “trusts,” “combines” and investor-owned corporations
in key infrastructure sectors. Cooperatives were typically organized by homogenous
† Glen L. Farr Professor of Law, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University
†† Assistant Professor of Management & Organizations, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
††† John C. Pock Professor of Sociology, Reed College.
2
groups, who dealt in relatively homogenous commodities. They emerged from political
struggles over corporate consolidation, appearing in waves as farmers and independent
producers mobilized to capture fruits of development, promote small stakeholder forms
of capitalism, and preserve republican virtues of community, self-sufficiency and self-
governance. They drew on cooperative templates and social identities brought to the US
from Scandinavia and other northern Europe countries. And they received vital
infrastructure support first, from social movements like the Grange and Farmers Alliance,
and later, from national regulatory programs that used cooperatives as a redistributive
mechanism to support farm incomes. Indeed, some cooperatives became formidable
“big” businesses in their own right, as cooperatives like Land O’ Lakes and Sunkist
adopted rationalized business practices, allied themselves with supermarket chains to
secure outlets for high-volume production, and came to dominate key market segments.
Few, if any, of these conditions seem to characterize Wisconsin specialty cheese
production, the focus of this study. New economy producers, like specialty cheese
producers, represent the polar opposite of the conventional case for agricultural
cooperatives. Indeed, Wisconsin specialty cheesemakers, in key respects, are an
industrial district, similar in form and function to the Italian textile or footwear industries.
They are involved mainly in high-quality, small to medium batch production of
individualized, rather than commodity, cheese. They are a diverse lot, seeking
aggressively to differentiate their products, win awards for their produce, and create a
niche for themselves. They rely heavily on informal ties and long-term relations to
conduct many key business dealings. Moreover, they operate not in a world of predatory
corporations, but rather, at least in part, in a world of farmers markets, Whole Foods
3
Markets, high-end chefs, and local foods restaurants. Perhaps even more pointedly, some
cheesemakers quite deliberately reject cooperatives as artifacts of commodity production,
big business or market control which are fundamentally inconsistent with their own
identities as independent artisans. For these reasons, and perhaps not surprisingly, we
find relatively little cooperative activity in our sample of cheese producers.
Yet contrary to historical pattern and theoretical predilection, we do find cases of
cooperative organizing, employed by specialty cheesemakers in ways that are deeply
connected to their economic practices and self-definitions. This puzzle, we argue below,
directly challenges any simple one-to-one correspondence between organizational form
on the one hand, and economic sector, transactional characteristics, social structure or
social identities on the other. It forces us to reject “excessive institutional determinism”
of either the economic or sociological variety. And it forces us to understand instead how
producers can and do creatively transpose, edit or redeploy organizational forms to new
settings, reconfiguring their elements, rearticulating them with contexts and ongoing
practices in new ways, and creating credible “alternative pathways” for small business
organizing in otherwise settled domains. “Old” cooperative forms, we find, can be, and
have, been retasked, retained to “new tricks,” given new cultural meaning, and may very
well have a role of new economy agriculture. Moreover, this is partly possible, we find,
because artisanal producers strategically reinvent the cooperative form both
“economically,” as a mechanism for managing new economy transactional or governance
issues, and “sociologically,” imbuing old forms with new meanings and identities, or
realigning the identity of the business organization with the categorical identity of the
cooperative.
4
Specialty cheese production in Wisconsin
Many of the farmers who settled in Wisconsin during the first half of the 1800s
were from New York, then the leading dairy producer in the United States, but it wasn’t
until the late 1800s that dairy came to dominate agricultural production in the state. In
1872 William Dempster Hoard founded the Wisconsin Dairyman's Association,
launching Hoard on a career that earned him the unofficial title, “father of the Wisconsin
dairy industry.”1 The University of Wisconsin also played a crucial role in the
development of the dairy industry, offering various courses around the state to educate
farmers – particularly recent German and Scandinavian immigrants – about the benefits
of dairying. Moreover, Stephen Babcock, a University of Wisconsin chemistry professor,
had two scientific breakthroughs that would revolutionize cheesemaking. First, he created
the “Babcock Test” in 1890 to measure the butterfat content of milk, thus allowing dairy
farmers to determine which cows produced the best milk for cheesemaking. Second,
Babcock worked with bacteriologist Harry L. Russell to create a cold-curing process for
ripening cheese. By 1899 more than 90 percent of Wisconsin farms raised dairy cows,
and by 1915 Wisconsin was producing more cheese and butter than any state in the
United States.2
Until recently most cheeses produced in Wisconsin were “commodity” cheeses,
including cheeses of European derivation – most notably, Swiss (Switzerland), Cheddar
(England), Mozzarella and Provolone (Italy), Muenster and Limburger (Germany), and
Gouda and Edam (Holland) – as well as cheeses first created in Wisconsin, such as Brick
1 Ellis B. Usher, 4 Wisconsin: It's Story and Biography 1848-1913 681-82 (1914).
2 Wisconsin Historical Society, “The Rise of Dairy Farming” (http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp-028/)
5
and Colby. In the early 1900s, cheese was produced in small batches at local cheese
factories. Wisconsin boasted 2,800 cheese factories in 1922, making it a leading state in
dairy and cheese production.3 And, to a remarkable extent, this production was
cooperatively organized or embedded, with Wisconsin alone boasting over 170 cheese
cooperatives in 1922, and a broader ecology of 716 and 908 milk, cheese and creamery
cooperatives, respectively, in 1925 and 1927. 4 During this era, at least, Wisconsin, its
dairymen, and its cheesemakers represented a central locus of cooperative organization in
agriculture.
As refrigeration trucks became more common, the need for local production
diminished, and the number of cheese plants in Wisconsin declined to approximately
1,500 by 1945. Over the past 50 years, California has increased its commodity cheese
production substantially, placing further pressure on Wisconsin cheesemakers. Today
Wisconsin has only 115 cheese factories, with slightly over half producing commodity
cheeses.
Some of the cheese factories that were vacated by commodity cheesemakers have
been refurbished for the production of specialty cheeses. Most Wisconsin cheesemakers
refer to “specialty” cheese, rather than “artisanal” cheese, though the distinction between
these two concepts is not readily apparent. The American Cheese Society offers the
following definition of “artisanal” cheese:
3 Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, “History of Wisconsin Cheese”
(http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/wisconsin/history_of_wisconsin_cheese.aspx)
4 Elsworth R.H., 1928. Agricultural Cooperative Associations, Marketing and Purchasing, 1925. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture. Elsworth, RH. 1930. Cooperative Purchasing and Marketing, 1920-1930. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture.
6
The word “artisan” or “artisanal” implies that a cheese is produced primarily by hand, in small batches, with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheesemaker’s art, and thus using as little mechanization as possible in the production of the cheese. Artisan, or artisanal, cheeses may be made from all types of milk and may include various flavorings.5
“Specialty” cheese, as that term is used by Wisconsin cheesemakers, is well-
captured in this definition from the Wisconsin Dairy Artisans Network:
A subjective term used to classify cheeses of exceptional quality, notably unique or produced in limited quantities. Cheeses that are combinations of different cheese types also may be referred to as specialty. For example, Blue/Brie is a soft-ripened specialty cheese with a blue vein mold throughout.6
In our conversations with Wisconsin cheesemakers, it became apparent that
“specialty” cheese is a broad category, including everything from commodity cheeses
with added flavorings (e.g.,Havarti with dill) to the mixed milk cheeses of Carr Valley
(e.g., Gran Canaria, which is made with a blend of sheep, goat, and cow milk) to the most
celebrated Wisconsin specialty cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which is described on the
Uplands Cheese Company’s website as “an artisanal cheese made from the non-
pasteurized milk of a single herd of Wisconsin cows fed and managed using natural, ‘old
world’ practices.”7
All cheesemakers in Wisconsin must be licensed by the State.8 Qualifications for
a license include working as a cheesemaker assistant under the direct supervision of a
licensed cheesemaker; passing a written examination on the laws related to
5 The American Cheese Society
<http://www.cheesesociety.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=51>.
6 Wisconsin Dairy Artisans Network (http://www.wisconsindairyartisan.com/definitions.html).
7 Uplands Cheese Company )http://www.uplandscheese.com/).
8 Wisconsin Statutes § 97.17 (“No person shall engage as a … cheesemaker unless the person has a license from the” Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection).
7
cheesemaking, the fundamentals of cheesemaking, various aspects of cheese plant
operations, and practical knowledge of dairying. The apprenticeship requirement may
help to explain the high concentration of cheesemakers in the southwest quadrant of
Wisconsin. Below is a map showing the locations of Wisconsin’s specialty
cheesemakers, many of whom were contacted as part of this study:9
Currently, Wisconsin cheesemakers look less like their “commodity cousins” of
most of the 20th century than they do an industrial district of small batch, specialty craft
producers. They are geographically concentrated. They are a heterogeneous group of
producers, pursing high-quality, small to medium batch production of individualized,
cheese, often using highly skilled labor. They work aggressively to differentiate their
products, win awards for their produce, create a niche, and establish a name for
9 Wisconsin Dairy Artisans Network (http://www.wisconsindairyartisan.com/). The complete list
of these specialty cheesemakers appears in the Appendix.
8
themselves in a world of farmers markets, Whole Foods Markets, high-end chefs, and
local foods restaurants. They rely heavily on informal ties and long-term relations to
conduct their business dealings. Moreover, it is not uncommon for cheesemakers to self-
consciously reject cooperatives as artifacts of an economic world, type of markets or
product category that are inconsistent with their own identities as independent artisans.
What role, if any, is there for cooperative organization in this changed world of
artisinal cheese? To address this question, have been conducting in-depth, structured
interviews with Wisconsin specialty cheesemakers. Each interview was conducted with
an official representative of the cheese company, usually the founder, the general
manager, or the head cheesemaker. During the interviews we asked the representatives
about the basic operations of their business, the company’s history, the background of
choosing a particular legal form, governance and decision-making issues, and the future
plans and goals of the company. We were particularly interested in these interviews in
the decisions cheesemakers made about the form of organization, whether or not they
considered cooperative forms, and the factors that influenced their thinking on these
matters. To date, we have interviewed representatives from eighteen different cheese
companies.
Preliminary findings: Three cases of cheese production
Consistent with a profile of a markedly changed world of cheese making,
cooperative forms appear comparatively rare in this subector. Nevertheless, there was
variation across cheesemakers in whether or not they engaged or incorporated
cooperatives into their operations. Some embraced cooperativism, and in some new and
surprising ways, suggesting a continued role for cooperatives even in this changes world.
9
In this section, we look at factors mentioned in structured interviews with cheesemakers
as influencing their choices of organizational form. We focus on three particular cases,
which represent distinct patterns of form choice, and use these cases to set up a
preliminary typology of specialists’ relations to cooperative forms.
Carr Valley (Cooperatives irrelevant?)
Carr Valley is a mid-sized cheese company that has goals to grow significantly
over the next several years. They make roughly two million pounds of cheese each year.
Although the bulk of their business is in the commodity cheese line (i.e., cheese curds
and cheddars), they have a variety of specialty cheese products that they market through
retail chains and wholesalers. Even their cheddar cheese products are produced with
traditional methods, making the products more artisanal than the bulk cheese of mass
producers. (“[M]ore and more [our cheddar] is becoming artisan cheese because the
techniques are getting lost. If you look at the video out there now and some of the
pictures from the 1930s, there’s like some of the same equipment. So they’re still doing it
the same way.”) Like many of the representatives we interviewed, Carr Valley uses
“artisanal” not only to describe the specialty, rare forms of cheese produced but also to
denote the authenticity of production methods used by the company. Authenticity, and
consequently the label “artisanal,” is linked to tradition and novelty.
Carr Valley is not associated in way with a cooperative form. It does not have any
official ties to dairy cooperatives nor did they consider using a cooperative legal form.
The plant was originally operated as a family business, but in the 1980s the family
business split, and one of the remaining family members bought the plant used by the
10
company today. After the split the company reorganized as a complex legal structure, in
which an LLC owned the real estate and the cheese company became an incorporated
organization. The owner also created separate corporations to handle storage and
warehousing. When asked about the complexity of the legal arrangements, the
representative noted that the company’s lawyer was largely responsible for the legal
choices.
Manager: Well, the same person owns all of [the different companies]. We do have different ends for different ones. His idea, if you ask any of us, we’re Carr Valley Cheese Inc. He’s trying to get the focus off of just Sid Cook and bring it into Carr Valley and so you’re looking at cheese that is made by Carr Valley, not Sid Cook. And that way, if something happens to him, life goes on – it goes on.
Interviewer: And I missed the name of the one in Mauston.
Manager: Wisconsin Pride. We also have another company that’s our warehouse, we have a cold storage facility and portage and we call that Portage Cold Storage.
Interviewer: So is that owned by Sid or is that owned by the Corporation.
Manager: Nope, that’s owned by LLC.
Interviewer: And as far as you know, there’s no contract between these entities, they just sort of do their separate things.
Manager: Yup…. I think what happened was that at one point and time, this is what the company was, but then we added this and then they added this and to come up with different ways of interacting….but I think “Why don’t you just put it all together?”
Interviewer: So my sense is that lawyers are involved at some point here.
Manager: Exactly. Leaving the choice of legal form to a lawyer’s discretion is a fairly common
practice among the company representatives we interviewed. Relegating legal decisions
to a lawyer may have important ramifications for the organization of cheesemaking. One
possibility is that there is less heterogeneity in organizational form than might be
11
beneficial to the specialists. Cooperatives and other more innovative legal forms may be
left out of the range of possibilities because the local lawyers do not have sufficient
knowledge about how to make these kinds of choices (we discuss this more in relation to
the Edelweiss case). As we discuss later, choosing a cooperative form may have special
benefits for cheese producers, but inasmuch as choice of legal form is limited to a narrow
range these benefits are unavailable to producers who lack the right connections to more
sophisticated legal assistance. Alternatively, there may be very “loose coupling” between
the legal form of cheesemaking enterprise, and its day-to-day activities, practices and
problem. Rather than understanding forms as specific controls or guides that proscribe
particularly activities or routines, they may function more as general templates, which
can be fairly costlessly chosen and adapted to a wide variety of particularly
circumstances and enterprise operations. In fact, legal forms may simply be set aside as
“something lawyers do,” to be called into play when legal conflicts arises.
Butler Farms (Cooperatives versus artisianal production)
Butler Farms is a small cheesemaking business operated by a husband and wife
team. Rather than using milk from cows, Butler cheese is made with sheep milk. Due to
the small scale of the operation, they produce six select cheese varieties, which they
distribute directly to customers. While in the past the company tried to widen their
distribution through large retailers and farmers markets, they found that they could cut
costs and enhance their net income through a face-to-face distribution strategy, selling the
bulk of their products to local restaurants and stores. Rather than relying on contracts or
12
purchase orders, their sales are deeply embedded in trusting relationships, typical of
relational contracting (Macaulay, 1965; Grannovetter, 1985).
Ya it’s [a cash business]. Sometimes it’s like “Oh, I forgot my checkbook today” and then it’s like “Don’t worry about it.” A few weeks ago it was a girl from Harvest, you know, and it was “I’m not gonna be here next week but I will be here the next two weeks.” And sure enough she came back on Saturday and bought more things and paid for them. You know, [a local specialty food store owner], every couple of weeks she tells us how much she needs, we make the delivery on like Saturday at the farmers market and a few days later the check is in the mail.
Butler Farms’s self-definition as artisanal is based on the notion that not only do they
produce specialty cheese but that they use atypical distribution methods. The do-it-
yourself and “buy local” ethic are deeply engrained in their modus operandi.
Butler does not currently organize as a cooperative and do not acquire any milk
from cooperatives because they raise all of the sheep on their own farm. But at one time
they did belong a cooperative of sheep farmers. Over time, they “drifted away” from the
cooperative. Leaving the cooperative was an explicit choice on their part to enhance their
independence and preserve their strategy of staying small.
There’s a sheep dairy coop, and we belonged to that in the beginning, but we kind of drifted away, it was amicable, as far as I’m concerned. We just didn’t go to any more meetings; they were going in a different direction than we were. They were looking to get big and do mass production and national distribution and we were looking to try and stay more local and I think, for me, the split came just…they wanted to go to a big multi-national for making their cheese. And it was like “Why are you doing that?” you know?... we decided that we were going in different directions is all. I see that you’re going that way, and I’m not going that way. And it worked out better for us in that it helped us stay small cause it’s so hard to do that. It’s so easy to try to make more, to try and distribute more, to get more animals…it kind of takes on a life of its own. We’ve really struggled to try to stay small …we’ve been doing this full time since ’93 since we moved here, and I’d say about ’02 - ’03 the light bulb finally turned on. We said ok, no more farmers markets, no more distributions, and how can we do what we do – we milk only seasonally now.
13
For Butler Valley, joining a cooperative meant losing some of their autonomy and their
connection to the craft of cheesemaking. The cooperative planned to hire an independent
cheesemaker to process all of their sheep milk, which would have reduced the production
and distribution costs of each farm. While this move may have been economically sound
for Butler, their choice to disaffiliate with the cooperative also reflected their
commitment to cheesemaking as a craft and family lifestyle. In effect, Butler defined
their economic interests and business identities in contrast or in opposition to cooperative
forms, making cooperative organization relevant to the cheesemaking enterprise, but as
something to be avoided or dismissed. Butler thus stands as a second possible category
in our typology of cheesemaker-cooperative relations.
Edelweiss Cheese (The “coop fit?”)
Edelweiss Cheese is a mid-sized company, consisting of four farms, that produces
roughly 1.2 million pounds of cheese each year. Edelweiss has seven specialty cheese
products. The company distributes mainly to local retail stores and through farmers
markets. The key distinguishing quality of Edelweiss is that it relies solely on milk
coming from grass fed cattle. This unique grazing method helps them distinguish their
product from cheese made from grain-fed cows and organic products. Edelweiss claims
that grass fed cows produce a higher quality milk and cheese. The manager of Edelweiss
stated this quality difference in the following quotation:
Different taste comes off the grass. You’ll pick up the flavors of what their eating, whether its clover or grass or whatever, that’ll get picked up in the flavor profile. And also the color is unbelievable because the carotene is freshly picked it carries through the milk and out into the cream. So the milk is really yellow.
14
Edelweiss’s self-definition as artisanal comes in part because of its unique grass-fed
product profile.
But Edelweiss’s artisanal identity runs deeper than the kinds of cheeses it
produces. Unlike most other specialty cheese companies in Wisconsin, Edelweiss uses a
cooperative form to organize its suppliers. While the cheese maker himself is an
incorporated entity, he subcontracts for the Edelweiss Grazers Cooperative, a cooperative
consisting of four grass-fed dairy farms. The cooperative not only aggregates its milk to
supply the cheesemaker, it also owns property and plant where the cheese is produced.
The cheesemaker makes 15% of the profit from the sold cheese, and the farmers
distribute the rest of the profit evenly among the four farms.
This cooperative arrangement gives more control over the cheese operation to the
farmers, but another reason for using the cooperative form is because of its perceived
congruence with their identity as artisanal producers. The founder, in the following quote,
described the process of choosing the cooperative legal form as a deliberative decision to
augment their artisan identity.
Founder: [W]e’re trying to set up this whole dairy operation. We think we want to be a coop. Originally we weren’t sure if we wanted to be a coop or an LLC…Well, we’ve worked for coops before and it actually creates a nice sound, you know, to what you’re doing. Because I think for what we’re doing coops kind of fit together with artisanal thinking, etc. I would say it was as much for the marketing reasons. And also, I like the idea of trying to share, you know, the wealth. Well, obviously we can’t totally share it because we have just a couple investors but the whole ideas of a coop really appeals to me.
Thus, while the other cheese producers focused on other dimensions of their
business that enhanced their identity as specialty producers (i.e., Carr emphasized its
15
method of production; Butler drew on its means of distribution), Edelweiss used
organizational form as an identity accentuating mechanism.
The cooperative form had another positive function for Edelweiss – it allowed the
dairy farmers to exert control over their internal standards of product quality. Given that
grass feeding was such an important input to their eventual product quality, the farmers
used the cooperative as a means of control to assure that members maintained this
feeding standard.
Founder: So the grazing has been a basis for why we started this coop because we found out that when you graze our cattle we produce a different kind of milk too…. Well, we’ve had a number of people be interested [in joining the cooperative], but what we’ve also found is that we’ve set certain parameters to protect the integrity of it, like we don’t want anybody feeding corn silage to the milk cows during the grazing season. Interviewer: Right. Founder: Some guys like to feed corn silage. So what we have to do is as a coop… Interviewer: You have standards, it sounds like. Founder: Yep, we have standards but what is eventually going to have to happen is we’re going to have to get a price that is high enough for these people that they’ll say, ok, I’ll give up the corn silage because I believe in what you’re doing there at that coop.
By making feeding standards an admittance standard to the cooperative, the dairy farms
ensure that their cheese products maintain a distinguishable niche position in the market.
Thus, the cooperative form has both symbolic and functional benefits for Edelweiss.
Given that one of the constraints in using the cooperative form is access to the
necessary legal knowledge, Edelweiss had to seek special help to create their specialized
form. Local lawyers did not have sufficient expertise. When the founders sought help
16
they first turned to the Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, who in turn put them in touch
with a law firm in Minnesota that had extensive experience in doing legal work for
Minnesota dairy cooperatives. Thus, in order to construct the particular legal arrangement
used by Edelweiss, in which the cheesemaker contracted with a dairy cooperative that
legally owned the property, they had to create contacts with external legal professionals.
More generally, Edelweiss points to the possibility that the cooperative form can
be used inventively by specialty producers to supplement their identity in a craft
economy. To do this, however, the cooperative form is actively mobilized by intentional
actors who seek to imbue the cooperative form with new cultural meaning. In the case of
Edelweiss this active mobilization was a joint effort of the dairy farmers who sought
novel organizing tools with which to supplement their niche identity as artisanal
producers of grass-fed products and the Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, an
organization that has an explicit mission to promote cooperative use. This redeployment
of the cooperative form took an old organizational form and infused it with new purpose
and cultural connotation.
Conclusion:
Three preliminary findings emerge from our analysis. First, the business of
artisinal cheese production in Wisconsin has developed in ways that appeared to have
rendered the cooperative form of organization strikingly less common, or relevant, than
in the past or than with commodity cheese producers. This is perhaps not surprisingly
given the general absence in this specialty subsector of conditions commonly associated
with cooperatives. However, we also find that there can be substantial loose coupling
17
between the legal or organizational form of an enterprise, on the one hand, and its
business activities, coordinating practice and day-to-day problems, on the others. We find
further that there was variation across cheesemakers in whether or not they engaged or
incorporated cooperatives into their operations, variation which supported a preliminary
typology of cheesemaker-cooperative relations in this specialty subsector. For some
cheesemakers, cooperatives forms seem largely irrelevant; for others, cooperatives appear
to represent business practices, product types and general orientations against which
artisisnal cheesemaking’s core identity is defined. In some cases, cooperative forms (and
perhaps legal forms in general) may be something that can be set aside for most, if not
all, day-to-day practices, or used as a foil to distinguish one’s niche or identity.
Yet some cheesemakers appeared to embrace cooperatives, refitting or
refashioning it to the demands of this subsector, both a governance mechanisms to sustain
high quality production, and as a form to express, communicate and perhaps consolidate
a new, specifically artisinal identity. This third leg of our typology has potentially
important implications. It suggests that cooperatives, and organizational form more
generally, are not uniquely or fully determined by “underlying” economic conditions, the
characteristics of core transactions or traditional sociological categories and identities.
Instead, it supports a more multifunctional or multiple pathways view of industries and
organizational form, and that organizational forms are more plastic or flexible than
common understood, opening largely unexplored possibilities for retasking and
redefining cooperative organizational forms. And, should further research support these
notions, it suggests that cooperatives can play a vital role in sustaining new forms of
agricultural production.
Alto Dairy N3545 County EE Waupun, WI 53963 Phone: 920-346-2215 www.blackcreekclassic.com
................................................................ Arla Foods, Inc. 489 Holland Court Kaukauna, WI 54139 Phone: 800-243-3730 www.arlafoodsusa.com
................................................................ Bass Lake Cheese Factory 598 Valley View Trail Somerset, WI 54025 Phone: 800-368-2437 www.blcheese.com
................................................................ BelGioioso Cheese 5810 County Road NN Denmark, WI 54208 Phone: 920-863-2123 www.belgioioso.com
................................................................ Blaser's USA PO Box 36 Comstock, WI 54826 Phone: 715-822-2437 www.blasersusa.com
................................................................ Bleu Mont Dairy Willi Lehner 3480 County F Blue Mounds, WI 53517 Phone: 608-767-2875 www.cheeseforager.com/bleumont
19
................................................................ Braun Swiss Käse Hoch Enterprises 554 First Street New Glarus, WI 53574 Phone: 800-624-1675
................................................................ Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin 17975 County Highway F Darlington, WI 53530 Phone: 800-338-3773
................................................................ Butler Farms Janet Butler W13184 Sjuggerud Road Whitehall, WI 54773 Phone: 715-983-2285
................................................................ Capri Organic Goat Cheese Felix Thalhammer P.O. Box 102 Blue River, WI 53518 Phone: 608-536-3636 www.capricheese.com
................................................................ Carr Valley Cheese S3797 County Trunk Highway G La Valle, WI 53941 Phone: 608-986-2781 Website: www.carrvalleycheese.com
................................................................ Cedar Grove Cheese Bob Wills E5904 Mill Road Plain, WI 53577 800-200-6020 www.cedargrovecheese.com
20
................................................................ Chalet Cheese Cooperative Myron Olson N4858 Hwy N Monroe, WI 53566 Phone: 608-325-4343
................................................................ Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese W11555 Torpy Road Waterloo, WI 53594 Phone: 920-478-4887 www.cravecheese.com
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Decatur Dairy Steve Stettler or Nicole Looze W1668 Hwy F Brodhead, WI 53520 Phone: 608-897-8661 www.decaturdairy.com
................................................................ Edelweiss Creamery Bruce Workman W6117 County C Monticello, WI 53570 Phone: 608-938-4094
................................................................ Fantôme Farm Anne Topham Ridgeway, WI Phone: 608-924-1266 www.fantomefarm.com
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................................................................ FenceLine 22950 County Road Y Grantsburg, WI 54840 Phone: 612-521-0450 www.fencelinecheese.com
................................................................ Gingerbread Jersey Carolyn and Virgil Schunk 1025 West Lincoln Street Augusta, WI 54722 Phone: 715-286-4007
................................................................ Henning Cheese 20201 Ucker Point Road Kiel, WI 53042 Phone: 920-894-3032 www.henningscheese.com
................................................................ Hidden Springs Creamery Dean and Brenda Jensen 1597 Hanson Road Westby, WI Phone: 608-634-2521
................................................................ Hook’s Cheese Company Tony and Julie Hook 320 Commerce Street Mineral Point, WI 53565 Phone: 608-987-3259
................................................................ LoveTree Farmstead Cheese Mary or David Falk 12413 County Road Z Grantsburg, WI 54840 Phone: 715-488-2966 www.lovetreefarmstead.com
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................................................................ Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative Jeff Wideman or Shirley Knox N890 Twin Grove Road Monroe, WI 53566 Phone: 608-934-1234 www.wischeese.com
................................................................ Meister Cheese Company PO Box 68 Muscoda, WI 53573 Phone: 920-387-5740 Ext. 316 www.meistercheese.com
................................................................ Montchevre Betin 336 South Penn St. Belmont, WI 53510 Phone: 608-762-5878 www.montchevre.com
................................................................ Montforte - WFU Specialty Cheese Company 303 E. Highway 18 Montfort, WI 53569 Phone: 608-943-6771
................................................................ Mt. Sterling Cheese Cooperative Alan Bekkum 505 Diagonal Street, PO Box 103 Mt. Sterling, WI 54645-0103 Phone: 608-734-3151 www.buygoatcheese.com
................................................................ Natural Valley Cheese Tom Torkelson 110 Omaha St. Hustler, WI 54637 Phone: 608-427-6907
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................................................................ Organic Choice 251 Industrial Drive Mondovi, WI 54655 Phone: 715-926-4788 www.nextgenerationdairy.com
................................................................ Organic Valley Family of Farms Eric Newman One Organic Way LaFarge, WI 54639 Phone: 608-625-2602 www.organicvalley.coop
................................................................ Park Cheese Company Eric Liebetrau PO Box 1499 Fond du Lac, WI 54935 Phone: 920-923-8484 www.parkcheese.com
................................................................ Pasture Pride Cheese Kim Everhart 110 Eagle Drive Cashton, WI 54619 Phone: 608-654-7444
................................................................ Roth Käse USA Kirsten Jaeckle 657 Second Street Monroe, WI 53566 Phone: 608-328-2122 www.rothkase.com
................................................................ Salemville Cheese Co-op 3018 Hwy 145 Richfield, WI 53076 Phone: 800-782-0741 www.dcicheeseco.com
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................................................................ Sartori Foods 210 Morse St. Antigo, WI 54409 Phone: 715-623-2301 www.sartorifoods.com
................................................................ Seymour Dairy Products 124 E. Bronson Road Seymour, WI 54165 Phone: 920-833-2900 www.seymourdairyproducts.com
................................................................ Silver Lewis Cheese Co-op Karla Erickson W3075 County Road EE Monticello, WI 53570 Phone: 608-938-4813
................................................................ Specialty Cheese Company Paul Scharfman 455 South River Street Lowell, WI 53557 Phone: 920-927-3888 www.specialcheese.com
................................................................ Springbrook Organic Dairy Theresa DePies W3151 Haddick Road Springbrook, WI 54875 Phone: 715-766-2610
................................................................ Sugar River Dairy Ron and Chris Paris N7346 County Highway D Albany, WI 53502 Phone: 608-938-1218
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................................................................ Uplands Cheese Company Mike Gingrich 5023 State Road 23 Dodgeville, WI 53533 Phone: 608-935-5558 www.uplandscheese.com
................................................................ Widmer’s Cheese Cellars Joe Widmer 214 Henni Street, PO Box 127 Theresa, WI 53091 Phone: 888-878-1107 www.widmerscheese.com
................................................................ Wisconsin Organics 302 W. Stanley St. Thorp, WI 54771 Phone: 800-299-8533 www.wiorganics.com